More Than Experience

Sunday Morning Musings:   I suppose I could say that most weeks hold something strange or unusual for me, and write it off as a normal week.  Yet for some reason this week feels extra strange.  Usually, by this time of the week, I have been able to process the week past and come to some kind of understanding of the feelings going on in my head and/or my “gut”.  However, this has not happened for me, or maybe it is just taking longer than I had hoped.

Processing of external and internal events has become a natural part of life for me.  I was once told that “experience is the best teacher”.  As a teacher I understood what was being said about the importance of actually doing something.  If I have four apples and give two away, I am left with two apples.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Yet, if I spend time talking about this action, or “reflecting” on the experience, there is so much more happening.

Continuing the above example, I can do the arithmetic (or mathematics, I am never sure).  But what if I spend some time thinking about why I gave away two apples?  Hypothetically, if I was a good capitalist I should have sold the apples to make a profit.  A compassionate person might have given them all away.  If I lived in a Socialist society I might have been expected to give them to the government who would then share them with someone.  Reflection can cause me sometimes just to think I should have stayed in bed!

Now, of course, there are large issues at stake in life which often give us greater cause to spend time thinking about how and why we react in the ways we do. I have been told by some of my friends that they no longer watch the news.  Their reasons offered vary.  Some are just overloaded with the “bad news” by which they feel constantly bombarded.  Others aren’t sure what to believe or who to trust anymore.  Despite the fact that we are told that “good news” is no news, many still long to believe that life is better than we are told.  Good things continually happen around us, but rarely do they make the headlines and often get used as “feel good” stories trying to brighten up the dark news we have just heard.

Each of us is confronted daily by events in our own lives that require us to spend time asking ourselves our reasons for feeling affected.  Yet, I find myself wanting the “experts” to explain situations to me.  I want the political pundits to tell me why someone has done something – or what the actions mean?  When something involves the education system I turn to those I expect have answers to my queries. The same happens in the church.  A while ago Pope Francis commented about the wording of The Lord’s Prayer or the “Our Father”.  For some, the comment created a “tizzy”, while I am sure others were unaware of his comments and the ensuing discussions.

Naturally, daily events mean something different to each of us.  Some events will affect us differently also.  What becomes important is that we take the time to ask ourselves about our thoughts and feelings around those events.  Sometimes it becomes a matter of priorities and spending the time to sort out not only what events have happened but which and why they matter at all.

Or maybe, I can just pretend that nothing has happened at all and that it makes no difference at all.

Reading the Bible

Sunday Morning Musings:  As I read the Bible, I also find it important for me to also read about the Bible.  I like to find the context in which the reading is set.  I am very aware that the Bible is not so much a book as it is a collection of “books” or writings.  I am also cognisant that part of the Christian Bible contains the writings considered sacred by those who profess Judaism.  The Torah contains many of the same stories.  Hence, finding the context means even more than just what is happening at the time.  We encounter this, especially, since there is often a large gap between the events and the writing about those events.

Understanding the purpose of the sayings, which became writings, is also very important.  The second major portion of the Hebrew Scriptures contains the work of the Prophets.  Isaiah and Jeremiah offer longer writings that cover longer periods of time, while the so-called Minor Prophets often deal with a more specific time or event.  (The twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament are called “minor” due to their length not the importance of their message.)  In the writings of the New Testament the “gospels” are intended for different audiences and thus include references that would likely be somewhat known by their listeners (later readers?).  Matthew’s gospel seems to have been written with a Jewish audience in mind and so we hear the Old Testament often quoted.  On the other hand, Luke’s gospel would appeal more to a Gentile audience.

Regardless, of the intended audience, one of the main purposes of these stories, narratives, historical or mythical (I use that word tentatively – realizing that “truth” is even found in fiction), is to tell us about God.  However, over the centuries it has become clearer to me that our understanding of “God” has changed as we have changed and grown in our own knowledge.   At one time, it was easier to understand God as “above”, and satan as “below” and us, here in the middle, hoping to go above when we died rather than below.  The science (some would stop me right there and tell me to go no further) of life revealed that the earth is not flat and a new understanding needed to be found.  The anthropomorphizing of “God” diminished for some.  That is to say, God was no longer envisaged as “an old man in the sky”. Nor was God viewed by all to be “controlling” everything including the weather.  (There is a story told of a minister who scolded his people when they were to gather to pray for rain in the midst of a draught but didn’t bring umbrellas.)

The Bible continues to be a very important source of information.  It continues to provide the followers of the Way, with rules that make for better communal living; it continues to connect the followers of the Way with a better understanding of not just the past but the importance of our relationships moving forward.  Some people may have chosen to disregard the Bible while others continue to say they only follow the teachings of the Bible. In my case, I want to continue to read the Bible but it is not my only source of or to God.  The truth teachings of the Bible do not compete with science, or even history for that matter.

I will continue to read my Bible and encourage others to do so.  But I will not suggest that we take it as the literal word of God, nor as the only word of God.

Balance Includes Death

Sunday Morning Musings:  It is nothing new to say that change is difficult. It is also well known that one of the only constants in life is that of change.  I will use the word “evolution” to talk about some changes in life which is always evolving for us.  We may not like the changes that are occurring; we may deny them or resist them; but change is and will happen.

The changes that we experience occur at every level of our being.  What is more, is that most of the changes that happen to us may even wanted or more importantly needed/  We want to develop physically, mentally, cognitive and spiritually, but sometimes this development is thwarted, just as they are often inter-related. Nonetheless, development occurs and needs to be nurtured.

Sadly, sometimes the nurturing does not happen as it should.  The lack of a certain vitamin or other necessary nutrient can cause physical illness.  Some illnesses are even inherited for a parent or grandparent.  Some illnesses are caused by stress or other mental condition.  Though we have often separated the body, mind and spirit into individual “silos”, they are all interconnected.  That which affects the body will affect the mind and the spirit.

The key of course is balance. If one element of our life is out of whack, it can and does have far-reaching effects.  When I say far-reaching, I mean that a physical issue often results in mental and/or spiritual stress.  Sometimes, the mental or spiritual matters that get raised can even feel worse than the original physical pain.

As many of you know, I have spent at least the second half of my life, studying living and dying.  Often the response I get concerns as to why anyone would want to learn more about dying. (Trust me, I am not alone in my endeavours, nor am I the first or even leader).  King’s College at Western University in London, Ontario offers direct education.  Around the world, there are teachers who know the difficulty many have in dealing with death. (Through a friend in Australia I participated in a pilot project to deliver palliative care education by internet.)  When death is not accepted as part of life, an imbalance occurs and when confronted by life’s reality, we struggle.

Now, into this mix some cultures (Canada is one) we have begun the discussion around Medical Assisted Death. And as expected, there are numerous voices and opinions being expressed. Often the loudest voices are the ones that get the most “press”, often around slippery slopes.  As a result many experiencing the struggle directly will withdraw from the public eye to avoid “upsetting” others, in some cases even family and friends.  Once again the balance needed in all our lives is lost and undue concern even conflicts arise.

Life is about balance.  We need to try to keep in balance all aspects of life.  In general that means finding the right balance involving body, mind and spirit. This idea of balance will not be found if we as a society continue to deny or even shy away from the realities.  Life has taught us that change is inevitable.  Life has also taught us that we must change or be lost.  Change involves some long held beliefs and even so-called taboos.

Change also means that we are willing to let go of that which continues to result in the imbalance.  It also means that we don’t have to experience any of life alone.  There are people willing to make the journey with us through this thing we call life.  It also means that we must do all we can to make these connections happen.

Expressing Helpfully

Sunday Morning Musings:  Earlier this week I was asked by someone as to why many people found that speaking about death was so difficult.  In this particular incident the woman’s sister was dying and as she sat by her sister’s side she started wondering about death, death in general but her own in particular.  It was into this moment of her life that I was invited.

As I have said in previous writings, one’s primary job in such times is to listen.  I encouraged this person to talk about life and death.  Finding the process difficult at first, she was able to get past her hesitation (fears?) and talk.  In the end she was grateful for the opportunity to express views that she had kept inside for fear of being judged in one way or another.  For various reasons it is difficult for most to speak of dying and death even when we know rationally that death is part of living, part of life.

When I first began this week’s musing I wanted to write about the importance of saying the right things, or knowing when not to say what we are feeling.  When another discussion centred on death, it wasn’t problematic for me to find a connection.  (I realize this may be my own bias.)

Firstly, I will state that every one of us will be confronted with what we learn and term as “unpleasant” situations. The real concern becomes how we respond.  Over maybe the last 40 years or so, educators have tried to summarize the human experience around grief.  The heart will always be slower than the head when it comes to this type of loss.  We know death will occur, we know death has occurred but there is always part of us that will reject that knowledge (or at least try to).  We likely will also feel the anger of that loss (even hearing of an illness) and need to express what some describe as “rage”.   Many of us remember the lines from the poem by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We are told that we should not keep this rage bottled up inside.  This is true, but when and where we choose to express these feelings are every bit as important.  If I am going to be a helpful caregiver I need to be present, but I cannot let my needs overshadow the other person’s needs.  I remember a fellow being very angry with me.  I went to visit him and heard him tell his mother that he didn’t want to see me.  My ego was hurt – why wouldn’t he want to see me? A whole range of feelings (selfish ones) started to flood me, until the better part of me kicked into gear and I was able to remind myself that it wasn’t about me.

With the increase of “social media” it has become even more important for us to use our words wisely.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say things, but when and what and why and how and even where our feelings are expressed are even more important.  I have heard it said that if I can’t say something kind that I should not say anything. Even if my words may be truthful, I must still be concerned about the other person or persons.

I love improv (improvisational) games because one the main tenets is to make the other person look and feel good about themselves.  This is also one of life’s greatest attributes for us all.  So we always need to ask ourselves how we can best do just that.